One of the first, if not the first, co-op games made available to gamers was the 1982 arcade smash, Joust. Joust has, somewhat incredibly, stood the test of time without many knock-offs, clones, or remakes. There was one in particular, Balloon Fight, which made its way onto a certain Nintendo Entertainment System and wound up as a part of the Nintendo culture/heritage. Taking a little bit from both games, Team Devil came up with Ninja Crash - easily one of the best indie games I've played this year.
The setting for Ninja Crash is a bit on the unbelievable side. An evil sorcerer has stolen your sensei’s cheese in order to fuel his army of undead and foul magics, so it’s up to the four ninjas to defeat him and bring it back…
I said it was unbelievable... right?
Anyways, across the game’s 8 levels, plus final boss level, the ninjas battle against the forces of darkness by taking to the skies with magic lanterns and defeat the villain’s undead minions by slicing their lanterns. Your ninja’s altitude is controlled by mashing the “A” button to float higher and easing off of it to go back down, while lateral movement is accomplished with the left thumbstick. These controls should sound, and more importantly feel, very familiar to anyone who’s played Joust. The movement of the ninjas even feels familiar. There’s that inexorable pull of gravity that you’re constantly made aware of through major or minor corrections to the ninjas’ trajectory when you’re attempting to get the upper hand on your foes.
Whilst attempting to soundly thrash the undead horde, should they get the upper hand on you and dispose of your lanterns instead, all is not lost. If you’re close enough to the ground to safely land you can make a new lantern and get airborne once more. The game also features power-ups, like kunai, kites, and even summoning the wind god Tengu, to give you a little bit of a boost. As the game progresses, enemies will vary some and the environments will become more challenging. Some even have hazards that could be the cause of your untimely demise.
The main story campaign is the only portion of Ninja Crash that is purely cooperative. You and one other player can team up to battle against the sorcerer and his minions to win the day. “Friendly fire” isn’t turned on so you can’t accidentally (or intentionally) pop your friend’s lantern and bring about his/her end. You also can’t directly help one another by giving one of your lanterns to a friend in need, however, you can help out by keeping the undead minions away long enough for a new lantern to get made. It may not seem all that helpful, but in the later stages (and particularly the harder difficulty levels) the forces of darkness can get quite tenacious and a last minute save can make all the difference between victory and defeat.
Ninja Crash also includes a competitive multiplayer element that is, I will admit, quite fun. The sheer insanity that can ensue when you’ve got a group of friends all trying to be the last ninja standing or simply just get the most kills is unlike anything I’ve played in a while. An enemy in one round of play may become a friend in the next as you team up against the one friend who’s kicking your collective butts. Of course that alliance only lasts until one of the two of you gets a little too close to the other’s lanterns.
Between the near misses with defeat in the cooperative campaign, the familiar and well executed controls, and the beautiful hand-drawn aesthetics, Ninja Crash should be on your list of co-op games to play with friends the next time they come over.
The Co-Op Experience: 2 players join forces to battle the evil sorcerer and his undead minions to reclaim their sensei’s cheese (the source of all power in the universe)
Ninja Crash is Geared Towards: Joust and Balloon Fight fans looking for a new take on a great game design